This group is a mix of two players new to the system from last year, and two players from last year’s list who have inched up. This is a pitcher-free post, but they’re coming. By the bottom, we’re halfway home and really into the meat of the system.
24. Ryan Noda, 1B/OF, age 23 in 2019 (DOB: 3/30/1996), last year: 32nd
After putting up video game numbers in his pro debut with Bluefield (.364/.507/.575) en route to winning the Appy League MVP, the question wasn’t whether Noda’s numbers would come down to earth in low-A but to what extent. The answer was a gentle landing, as he posted a strong .256/.421/.484 line in 527 plate appearances.
The biggest hit was to his batting average, which fell over 100 points as his BABIP deflated from a ridiculous .483 to a more normal .328. But Noda’s on-base skills remained robust, repeating his 20% walk rate, and his power output was even better with 20 home runs and 48 total extra base hits.And his worth noting both his power and overall production were actually a little better on the road than at the what is apparently the Lansing Launching Pad™.
So far, so good for the 15th rounder from the University of Cincinnati in the 2017 draft whose college career did not suggest this level of success. There’s a long way to go with much to prove. Noda has very limited defensive value, so his bat is going to have to carry him. There’s a fair bit of swing-and-miss, and his strikeout rate was high last year at 25%. Is his robust OBP a reflection of superior pitch/strike zone recognition, or simply a very patient approach that takes advantage of pitchers with less control skills which won’t be the case at higher levels? Can he tap into more power? These will be critical questions to answer.
23. Billy McKinney, OF, age 24 (DOB: 8/23/1994), last year: in Yankees system
McKinney was acquired in the July trade that sent J.A. Happ to the Yankees. He was a first round draft pick in 2013 by Oakland, but is now on his 4th organization having been traded to the Cubs (Jason Hammel/Jeff Samardzija trade), the Yankees (Aroldis Chapman trade) and now the Jays. It’s his first, and almost certainly last, time on the list as he barely retains rookie eligibility for 2019 with 115 ABs. Otherwise something has gone very wrong.
On one hand, he was a part of the return for a number of quality players, but it also means three other organizations have not considered him indispensable. On a more fun note, as a result of the first trade and a change in affiliation, McKinney played in all three high-A leagues in the space of one year.
McKinney generally performed well in the minors, though with ups and downs. He shot the lights out in his draft year, proving his billing as one of the top pure high school hitters in the draft was well deserved. He jumped to high-A, bypassing low-A entirely, though struggled initially. His hitting improved at each high-A stop, and he was in AA before turning 21. At this level he plateaued for two years, really struggling in 2016. A better 2017 got him to AAA in mid-2018, where he was quite good.
The Yankees called him up as an injury replacement opening weekend against the Blue Jays, and he promptly got hurt and missed a month. Then the trade to the Jays,and a solid 112 wRC+ after being called up for the last six weeks. He should get a good look in Spring Training, but with Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk, barring injury it likes comes down to him and Teoscar Hernandez for left field. The other could be kept as the fourth outfielder, especially if the Jays did more of a rotation in the outfield and playing platoon match-ups. Otherwise, it probably makes sense to have one playing everyday in AAA.
The question is whether he’ll hit enough to be a regular in a corner outfield spot with what looked like fringy defensive work in his MLB cameo. On the positive side, in recent seasons he’s shown more power as opposed to the more pure hitter he was early in his pro career, which bodes well in a corner. That has come with more strikeouts, and keeping that in check will be key to producing even offensively to offset marginal defensive/positional value.
22. Orelvis Martinez, SS, age 17 (DOB: 11/19/2001), last year: unsigned
Martinez was the linchpin of the 2018-19 international free agent class, signing for $3,510,000 which represented the vast majority of the team’s spending capacity. Various reports at various times had him as the top player in the class, though he ended up ranked 6th by MLB Pipeline, 7th at Baseball America and 12th at Fangraphs.
Realistically, he’s a complete wild card in terms of ranking him on this list. In addition to the fact that there’s no pro stats whatsoever to look at, he’s not even an adult. It’s like with high school signees before the signing deadline was moved up when they routinely hadn’t debuted, except even more extreme. He could plausibly not even make it to AA, he could plausibly be an above average regular. But he can’t be left off given what the signing bonus indicates about his potential and value.
That said, the size of bonus carries less inferential value than with draftees since it was likely agreed to a year to two before he signed, when he was 14 or 15 years old and players can change a lot before they sign. MLB Pipeline had this evaluation:
It is his bat, arm and power that’s expected to carry him...he has a chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average power. There’s still some room to grow and get stronger, which leads some evaluators to think Martinez will eventually move from shortstop to third base and still develop into an above-average defender.
There’s also a reference/comp to a young Adrian Beltre, if you really want to dream. But like with the ones Harold Reynolds throws out on draft day, take it with a massive grain of salt.
21. Hagen Danner, catcher, age 20 (DOB: 9/30/1998), last year: 26th
Danner was the team’s second round pick, 58th overall from Huntington Beach HS in California. He was a legitimate two-way player who could have been drafted (and many preferred) as a pitcher, but signed well over-slot as a catcher for $1,500,000. That’s notable in that catching is considered the position with the longest development curve with a full-time focus, to say nothing of splitting time elsewhere.
He landed 26th on last year’s list, below two fellow 2017 draftees who were picked behind him, including another catcher in Riley Adams. I had him significantly lower than Tom, and the reason for that was his debut in the GCL. With the very necessary caveat that it was only 34 games and 136 PA, he didn’t hit — at all. Struck out (27%), didn’t walk (4%), no power (.088 ISO) and didn’t reach on balls in play (0.202 BABIP).
Again, that’s hardly definitive, but in my experience it’s usually a very bad sign when a player struggles so badly in pro ball, especially a high school player who wasn’t universally seen a position player. Of course, there was the fallback of pitching, and if the struggles were repeated one had to think trying that was coming sooner than later.
But happily, his batting line did come around in Bluefield last year. It too is a pretty small sample as Danner was splitting time behind the plate and missed a couple weeks (if I recall, he got hit in the head). His .279/.409/.432 line was inflated with a .387 BABIP and he still had a high strikeout rate, but hit for some power and walked more. It’s enough to reject the possibility that he’s just completely overmatched by pro pitchers at the plate with no reasonable possibility of hitting.
There’s a very long way to go, but it would be a good sign to see him in Lansing next year, if not right away then by early June when extended wraps up. He obviously has the arm to stick behind the plate, and reports seem bullish on the rest defensively.
The highest ranked player on the 2020 list will be:
This poll is closed